I was in the shower when the thought struck. I reached for the bottle of off brand conditioner and squeezed a portion into my hand. What does it mean to believe? My mind taunted. I responded casually, because this kind of thing happens a lot in this context. Something about the hot water and white noise seems to fire up the abstract thought. So prompted by this open-ended question from my unconscious mind, I presented myself a thought experiment to tussle with.
If someone jizzed in this conditioner bottle, how would I know? It was a repugnant question, but I was ready to go down the rabbit hole. I guess I would inspect it. Identify it. But at what time during the sequence of me squeezing it into my hand, squinting at my fingers, parted from each other, studying the consistency–at what point do I decide: Yes! Someone jizzed in this, what a fucking nightmare, someone get me some bleach?
What tips the scales of sureness?
Is it a certain amount of variables present? A particular pattern my brain recognizes? A correspondence and integration of prior trials with questionable white substances? What’s going on here?
Undoubtedly, there are times the mind screams Yes! It accepts a truth with conviction and sureness. It forms a belief. But what are the building blocks of perception in this moment that trigger such a distinct response? How many things are considered, how many calculations made–conscious or not to produce that moment of Yes? I bet it’s more than we think. I bet it’s a lot.
Which leads us to a meditation on free will. If the process of belief is conjured by unconscious processes, by a mass calculation inside a single moment, then there’s just no way we can honestly say we control it. But what an ugly thing to say: you don’t control your beliefs. It just really feels like you do. It’s a patently unpopular idea. At least at this point in layman philosophy.
But as unpopular as it may be, it’s the truth. You don’t control any of it. Your brain does it’s thing–some of which you can see–some of which you can’t–and you perceive a rendition of the process. However narrow this slice of reality may be, it’s your experience. Your world. But not “yours” in any real way. Just there to bear witness to. Just there to observe.
Belief fits perfectly into the puzzle. It’s but an experience we have in real time–like getting a soaker, or receiving a kiss. A wave of essence in the fabric of reality. Belief is a process of the brain, and many of her disparate structures. So the answer to the riddle is this: maybe it doesn’t matter. You’ll never know what tips the scales of belief. I will either recognize that foreign white substance or I will not. There are two outcomes. Mutually exclusive.
The fallacy comes in the narrative. That story you tell yourself directly after the casual shift. “I know because.” This story breeds the illusion of control. Even though there’s no control. Life’s just a big ‘ol board game with 7 billion players. Let’s roll the dice.